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our upstairs toilet the pipes make a loud awful sound
26 February 2005

Q. Every time we flush our upstairs toilet the pipes make a loud awful sound. We have two bathrooms upstairs but only one makes the noise. The one making the noise has different plumbing hardware inside the tank than what I've normally seen. It seems to be sealing off the tube at the top that the water runs into if the tank becomes too full. Once you flush the toilet and the tank re-fills with water the pipes make a loud roaring sound. This is the only toilet that causes this. I hope this is making some sense to you.

A. Itís more common than youíd think. The noise you hear is the sound of water fluttering over the fill valve as it slowly closes in response to water filling the toiletís reservoir tank. Water conducts sound so it sounds like itís tearing through the pipes. Iíve heard them sound like a screeching banshee or a high-pitched whistle down to a low moan. It wonít hurt anything and is merely an annoyance. There is no real way to predict which toilet will do it over another. Some say itís the toilet that gets the most use, others claim that itís the one that gets the least use. Who knows? Since itís a pretty common condition the fix is simple too. Just replace the fill valve assembly. That is a job most marginally handy homeowners can do in a pinch. Set the refill level to the line provided in the tank or if one is not there then about a quarter to three eights of an inch below the overflow pipeóthatís the pipe that sticks up above the water level and normally has a small tube going into it.

While youíre at it switch out the flapper valve in the bottom of the tank. As they age they begin to leak slowly and you may never know it other than maybe catching the toilet filling for a second or two seemingly out of the blue when no one has been near the bath for hours. A sure clue of a slow leak is if the tank sweats in summer when the toilet has been idle. The refill water is cool and the tank sweats. If the flush valve doesnít leak the tank water will come to room temperature over time and not sweat. They used to sell foam lined toilet reservoir tanks back when air-conditioning was less universal that would mask the leakers. If you want to test whether or not your flapper valve is leaking just turn off the fill water to the tank at the valve down near the floor at the left side of the toilet (facing the toilet) and wait a few hours. Then pick up the lid and look at the water level. If after a period of a few hours itís gone down then the valve is leaking. Other than the time invested, the whole project will cost you less than $20. for parts and they should last ten to fifteen years, maybe less on well water.

Q. I want to turn off my hardly ever used third floor water heater. Is it OK to throw the circuit breaker off then back on later? Any need to drain it or something else?

A. Switching off the breaker to the water heater will merely allow the water in the heater to remain cool and not consume electricity. However, the water in the heater left for weeks or months at a time can become unsanitary so draining it down might be a good idea. If you do that be absolutely sure that you place a warning on the electrical panel boxóand at the heater itself plus the sink-- advising that the water heater is empty and to not turn it back on until it is refilled. If the breaker gets switched back on without water in the tank youíd be amazed how quickly the heater elements will destroy themselves. Once the tank has been refilled and the elements turned back on, hot water will be available for washing and showering in about a half hour.

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